At the beginning of the 1996 Formula 1 season, Michael Schumacher seemed to have done the unthinkable by leaving Benetton and moving to Scuderia Ferrari with the intent of fighting for the world titles, after a period in which Ferrari was not able to live up to the expectations. When Michael joined the Italian team, after two consecutive titles with Benetton in 1994 and 1995, the Maranello side were on the rack, and all hope was now in the talent and abilities of the German world champion.
Williams-Renault dominated the first part of the season with a much more competitive car and things were not looking good for Ferrari. However, the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix, held on 2 June 1996 at the Circuit de Catalunya, was a totally different story thanks to the wet conditions on Sunday and Michael Schumacher’s impressive driving skills in such conditions, as he produced one of the stunning drives that earned him the nickname “Rainmaster”.
Qualifying on Saturday took place on a dry track and thus the superior Williams-Renault car of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve could not be matched by anyone. Still, Michael finished qualifying third, well ahead of both Benetton-Renault cars. The Ferrari 1995 car was lacking grip, downforce and balance and truth be told the car should never have won a race. Yet Schumacher, as all great drivers do, found a way to overcome the technical disadvantages and, in this case, capitalised on the wet track, despite a very poor start, as his Ferrari nearly stalled on the grid. Fortunately, the German driver was not hit from behind. He dropped down to ninth, but quickly recovered as he had already passed three cars before the end of the first lap.
With a full wet set-up and light tanks (Michael chose to make two pit stops although usually on wet conditions drivers run with a heavy fuel load to go as long as possible), the German driver was unstoppable. While others retired after mistakes that forced them to go off track (Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard, Giancarlo Fisichella, Damon Hill, Gerhard Berger and Jos Verstappen were just some of the drivers that spun off), Schumacher was 2-3 seconds faster than all the rest and was using completely different lines to everyone else, going wide in order to avoid the more commonly used, rubber permeated areas of the track and as a result take full advantage of what precious, but very little grip was available in such difficult conditions, after it absolutely poured down all day. By lap 12 the Ferrari driver had already taken the lead by easily passing Jean Alesi and Jacques Villeneuve.
From that point on Michael constantly posted the fastest lap of the race and at times was even four-five seconds quicker than Villeneuve and Alesi. He won the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix with more than 45 seconds ahead of the Benetton-Renault driver and thus scored his first success for the Scuderia Ferrari. A truly memorable moment for the Italian team and the fans worldwide who will forever remember one of the great wet weather drives in history, from one of F1’s greatest ever talents.
From all the amazing things which Michael Schumacher achieved during the 1996 Formula One season, the Spanish GP victory most definitely stands out more than any, in a race when one driver raised himself to a level far beyond the reach of his rivals and scored the first of his 72 wins for the Scuderia Ferrari.